Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rams Cut Michael Sam   

Sports

Ken Belson, writing for The New York Times:

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an N.F.L. team, was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

The move came as teams across the league reduced their squads to 53 players.

In May, Sam was drafted at the end of the seventh round despite being named a co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference his senior year at the University of Missouri. He was taken with the 249th pick out of 256 players drafted.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Building 3D with IKEA   

DesignTechnology

Kirsty Parkin, writing for The CGSociety:

In the summer of 2004, IKEA decided to change the way they produced their product images. They made the first tentative moves toward CG rendered, rather than photographic, images. “We made 8 or 10 quite bad product visualisations by today’s standards,” says Martin, “but it sparked something and we continued to work at it.”

Today, 75% of the product images and 35% of the non-product images produced by IKEA are fake, created using computers rather than photography. Impressive artistry.

(Via Subtraction)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Full House Cast and Producers Mulling a Revival   

Television

Michael Schneider, reporting for TV Guide:

Could a Full House return be in the works? The family sitcom, which aired on ABC from 1987 to 1995, is still a ratings juggernaut via repeats on Nick at Nite. Now Warner Bros. TV is mulling a new take on Full House, with some of the original cast intact.

This would almost certainly be terrible, but sign me up to watch the first episode.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Delay morning school start for teens   

Science

Andrew Seaman, reporting for Reuters:

Middle and high schools should delay their start times to at least 8:30 a.m. to benefit the health and welfare of students, according to a new policy statement from a large organization of U.S. pediatricians.

Instead of having teens be in school by 7:30 or 8:00, delaying the start time has been found in past research to improve their quality of life through physical and mental health, safety and better academic performance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says in its journal Pediatrics.

And while we’re at it, why don’t we shift the start time for everyone else too?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What two years on Mars did to the Curiosity Rover   

Science

Sean O’Kane, writing for The Verge:

NASA’s Curiosity rover just recently finished its second year exploring Mars, and the red planet’s harsh environment has taken its toll. Rocky terrain, tricky sand dunes, and exposure to Martian dust storms have left the SUV-sized robot looking a little worse for wear as it continues its march towards its eventual goal, Mount Sharp.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The New York Times ‘Breaks Bad’   

Television

Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for The New York Times last September:

On “Breaking Bad” on Sunday night, Charlie Rose referred to a column by Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times. Here is an excerpt from that fictional column.

I missed this when it was first published, but it was a nice surprise to find it some ten months after the show wrapped up.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Music Monday – Volcano Choir’s ‘Dancepack’

Music

For those of you who know my musical tastes it will come as no surprise that I am a bit of a Bon Iver fanboy. There are so many songs that I could recommend from Bon Iver’s albums but I think I might have fallen even more in love with Justin Vernon’s side project Volcano Choir.

Volcano Choir’s latest album, Repave, is fantastic. One of the songs from this album that has made it onto my running playlists more recently is ‘Dancepack.’

Here is a pretty cool unofficial video for the song:

Apple reportedly in talks to launch mobile payment solution   

FinanceiOS

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

Apple’s talks with companies in the payment industry have been heating up in recent months, according to a new report from The Information. Apple executives have discussed launching a mobile payment solution as soon as this fall, allowing users to pay for physical goods with their iPhones.

I would appreciate the ability to make purchases by authorizing payments with the Touch ID on an iPhone. Even more exciting would be automatically receiving electronic receipts once the transactions are complete.

One question though: if I’m in a checkout line with five other customers, how does the cashier send a particular payment request to a particular iPhone? The payment process needs to be at least as fast as a traditional credit/debit card transaction, so asking for an e-mail address is a non-starter. It will be interesting to see what – if anything – Apple comes up with.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel   

Movies

Drew McWeeny reviews ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ for HitFix:

A Russian nesting-doll of a movie, this is a story within a story within a story within a story for much of its running time, with additional layers either peeled back or laid on top at various points, and there’s a real beauty to the way Anderson structures everything. Without giving away all the wonderful layers to the game he’s playing, it’s safe to say that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” tells the story of how Gustave H., the concierge of the Grand Budapest, ends up mentoring Zero Moustafa, a lobby boy who is there when war finally ruins the world in which the Grand Budapest exists. It is a love story, a heist movie, a farce, a prison break mission movie, and a sort of beautiful ode to a time that has passed, and it juggles all these disparate threads in a way that is breathtaking and elegant.

This is the best film I’ve seen so far this year. It’s quirky, funny, and beautiful to watch – like opening a story book and having it spring to life in front of you.

Blink   

Technology

From the recently funded Kickstarter project:

Meet Blink, the one-of-a-kind home monitoring system that’s ultra-affordable, simple to set up, and equally perfect for renters or homeowners. Our stylish, totally wire-free design houses innovative HD video technology, plus motion and temperature sensors, to deliver instant home insight through the Blink app for your iOS or Android device.

Blink is battery-powered and truly wire-free, so it’s simple to place, position and move within any environment. Create a system that covers your entryways and windows, monitors the garage, or keeps a watchful eye over the kids’ rooms (or even the cookie jar). Plus, our unique technology delivers more than a full year of battery life for extended, no-hassle peace of mind.

Not the prettiest design and raises the same privacy concerns as Sense by storing video clips on a remote server, but this is the type of home monitoring device I’ve been waiting for. When I previously researched buying a Dropcam, I abandoned the idea because of the requirement of positioning the device near a power source. Blink’s lack of monthly fees is a great selling feature as well.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review your credit reports annually, for free

Finance

If you’ve ever applied for a mortgage, a car loan, or a postpaid mobile phone plan, you’ve probably been the subject of a credit check. In such cases, the business from which you’re seeking credit retrieves your credit score – a number representing your expected creditworthiness – from a credit reporting agency. In Canada, the two major credit reporting agencies are Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada. They each maintain large databases of information about your credit history – any credit cards or loans you have and how diligently you’ve repaid them over time.

Your credit score is derived from the financial data stored in your credit file, so it’s important that this information is accurate. An incorrect entry could lower your credit score, negatively affecting your ability to get a loan or rent an apartment. The credit reporting agencies collect information on billions of transactions for millions of individuals so errors do occur. For example, you might share a name with someone that has bad credit and experience the misfortune of having one or more of their transactions hit your credit file by accident. Worse, you could be the victim of fraud, with someone using your identity to take out bad loans.

The credit reporting agencies will gladly sell you access to your credit report and credit score so that you can make sure the information on file is accurate. For about $15/month they’ll even provide credit monitoring services that are marketed at helping you protect your credit score from errors and fraud. But if paying almost $200 a year for access to a database of your own personal financial data seems excessive, there is an alternative – and it’s free.

By law, you have the right to access the information the credit reporting agencies store about you. As a result, once a year you can request your “credit file disclosure” from Equifax Canada and your “consumer disclosure” from TransUnion Canada for free. The process for obtaining these disclosures isn’t quite as easy as ordering a paid credit report – there’s an incentive for the credit reporting agencies to make it harder to get the free report. It’s also worth noting that a free credit disclosure excludes your credit score, so if you are curious about how you stack up you’ll have to pay for that. You can request your free credit disclosures by mail, fax, or by using an automated telephone system. Using the telephone is by far the easiest method, and once requested you should receive your credit disclosure within 5-10 business days.

To request your free credit file disclosure from Equifax Canada by telephone, call 1-800-465-7166.

To request your free consumer disclosure from TransUnion Canada by telephone, call 1-800-663-9980.1

I personally have a recurring reminder to request my credit disclosures each spring. When I receive my reports, I check to make sure there aren’t any strange loans or credit cards listed, that all of my loan payment information is accurate, and that there haven’t been any suspicious businesses requesting information about my credit history. The entire process takes about 30 minutes of my time each year, which is well-worth the piece of mind it provides.

The Government of Canada has additional information on ordering your credit report and what steps you should take if you find any errors.


  1. Unfortunately, TransUnion seems to have changed the process for accessing their automated telephone system, so you need to call them during regular business hours and request a transfer to the “automated telephone system for requesting a consumer disclosure” once you speak with a live customer service representative. This is another example of the credit reporting agencies making it a little more difficult to get something for free. 
Monday, July 28, 2014

Emmy-nominated Apple ad a real family affair   

AppleTelevision

Paula Simons, writing for the Edmonton Journal about Apple’s ‘Misunderstood‘ Christmas ad which has been nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy Award:

Indeed, Ippolito recruited his entire extended family to appear in the Apple ad: his in-laws, three siblings, his sister-in-law, his cousin, his nieces and nephews. In all, 23 members of the Ippolito and MacKenzie clans, ranging in age from nine months to 64 years, took part in the shoot — not including the two family dogs.

“This wasn’t Take Your Kid to Work Day. It was take your entire family to work day. It was pretty cool. It was an amazing thing.”

[...]

Maybe that’s why the ad was so moving. That’s genuine family affection we see — and genuine Alberta winter fun.

A well-deserved nomination and very interesting to learn more about the family featured in the ad. If you’re interested, you can see the five nominated ads here.

UPDATE

Apple won.

Thousands of candidates, one notoriously difficult CFA exam   

Finance

David Hains, reporting for The Globe and Mail:

On Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m., Mr. Shahriar and 100,000 CFA candidates around the world will check their email and learn how they did on their June exams.

[...]

Most who write the exam are either students or work demanding jobs in the industry, and time is limited. As a result there are no after-work pub nights, they miss out on birthday parties and spend less time with their family. Despite the intense effort, only 43 per cent of candidates passed their exam in June, 2013.

I vividly remember the anxiety associated with checking my CFA exam results and the complete sense of relief when I saw the word ‘Pass.’ Good luck to all of the candidates that will be checking their marks tomorrow morning!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sense   

Technology

From the recently funded Kickstarter project:

We created Sense to be simple, uncomplicated and useful. Sense is the first system that combines the insight of your sleep patterns with the data of the environment in your bedroom, including noise, light, temperature, humidity and particles in the air.

With Sense’s Smart Alarm, it can even wake you up in the morning at the right point in your sleep cycle, to avoid that groggy feeling we all hate so much. All easily available via our iPhone and Android applications.

A compelling, beautifully designed product. I’m tempted to back this project but I think I’ll first wait to see if they address the privacy concerns related to sleep data being stored on Amazon Web Services. Similarly, what happens to my data if Hello is one day acquired by Google similar to Nest and Dropcam?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tax Audits on Canadian Charities Criticized   

Politics

Dean Beeby, reporting for The Canadian Press, as published by The Huffington Post:

The Conservative government has stepped up its scrutiny of the political activities of charities, adding fresh money for more audits, and casting its net well beyond the environmental groups that have opposed its energy policies.

Canada Revenue Agency, ordered in 2012 to audit political activities as a special project, now has also targeted charities focused on foreign aid, human rights, and even poverty.

The tax agency has also been given a bigger budget — $5 million more through to 2017 — and is making the special project a permanent part of its work.

With 52 political-activity audits currently underway, some stretching out two years and longer, charities say they’ve been left in limbo, nervous about speaking out on any issue lest they provoke a negative ruling from the taxman.

And their legal bills are rising rapidly — in some cases adding $100,000 to already strained budgets — as they try to navigate often-complex demands from CRA auditors.

At best this represents an onerous burden on charitable organizations to ensure rules are being followed; at worst it is a complete waste of public funds for political gain.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Q&A with the creator of ‘House of Cards’   

Television

Laura Prudom, interviewing ‘House of Cards’ creator Beau Willimon for Variety:

When you were first writing and pitching “House of Cards,” did you have any concept of the magic you were making?

Willimon: No idea. Very early on, it was really just four people: It was Fincher and then his two producing partners, Eric Roth, legendary screenwriter, and Josh Donen, who’s his business partner and accomplished producer, and me. The fact that we had Fincher onboard and he was the person masterminding all this in the beginning, I knew that we were going to put a pretty good foot forward no matter what. Shortly thereafter, Kevin and Robin came onboard. So we had the recipe to do something really fantastic. Honestly, you never know whether anything you’re going to make is going to connect with people. We worked for almost a year on the first episode, got it to where we wanted it to be and went out to find a home and Netflix made an offer we couldn’t refuse and blew everyone out of the water. We were all excited about this possible programmatic shift. None of us had really done television before and neither had Netflix. So we were all in the same boat of experimentation, trying something different. We didn’t know what the rules were, so we were completely ready to break them.

There was a lot of attention toward the show early on just because of the new model. So we definitely benefitted from that. We knew a lot of people were going to be interested. We were proud of the work that we had done; we thought it was good, but you never know until you know. As high as our expectations were, I don’t think any of us were prepared for the huge response that we got, which only motivated us to make it even better.

It’s fascinating to learn more about how ‘House of Cards’ – the show that solidified Netflix as a television powerhouse – came to be.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Le Grand Feu – A Fireworks Extravaganza in Paris

Travel

Last year, while planning a vacation to London and Paris, we came across an interesting event called Le Grand Feu. It’s an annual fireworks display – apparently the largest in Europe – that takes place each September in a beautiful park on the western outskirts of Paris.

Le Grand Feu 1

Although there was very little information about the event online – and what little information we could find was all in French – Le Grand Feu was a wonderful experience and well worth the hassles of figuring out how to order tickets and how to get to the park by Métro. Best of all, given its low profile amoung non-Parisians, the event felt more authentic than some of the tourist traps we visited. It was fun and refreshing to be surrounded by locals.

Unlike most of the fireworks displays I’ve seen, Le Grand Feu was presented as a series of scenes, each artfully choreographed to a different piece of music. I was impressed not just by the variety of scenes, but also by the depth and layering of light the producers were able to create. I got a sense that they were focused on creativity and artistry rather than the all out ‘shock and awe’ I’ve come to expect from North American fireworks displays. That said, the grand finale certainly rivalled any other show I’ve seen in terms of intensity – in fact, it was so bright at times that I could barely keep my eyes open!

If you happen to be in or near Paris in September, it is definitely worth attending this unique event. Take a look at some of the videos to get a feel for show, but keep in mind that they don’t really do it justice.

If you’re interested in attending the show, below you’ll find information and tips based on my experience:

Tickets and Seating

The event is held in a large public park but the area is completely fenced off so you’ll require a ticket to get in. As it generally sells out in advance, I recommend ordering tickets online. There are several different seating options, from lower cost general admission space on the grass (i.e. no actual seats), to medium cost chair seating, to higher cost elevated bleacher seating. We opted for the medium-priced chair seating, identified as section T and S on the below image.

Le Grand Feu seating chart

These seats were good, although I would recommend sitting further back if possible. Sections V and U on the seating chart are actually less expensive but I think they are more desirable for two reasons:

  1. The fireworks are launched relatively close to the seating area, so the closer you are to the front, the more likely you are to get covered in ash during the performance. This is probably highly dependent on the direction of the wind during the performance, but we had a significant dusting of ash in our hair by the end of the show and at one point I had to deal with a tiny piece of debris in my eye.
  2. Since fireworks are fired into the sky, the closer you sit to the front, the more you’ll have to crane your neck to see everything. Sitting further back would reduce your neck strain and provide a wider viewing angle to take everything in since the fireworks launch from all over the park, not just from a central location.

Tickets range from €30 to €80 and can be purchased online through FNAC, the French equivalent of Best Buy with a ticketing subsidiary similar to Ticketmaster. We ordered tickets online and opted to pick them up at one of FNAC’s retail stores – in our case the Champs-Elysée location. Just remember to bring the credit card you used when ordering tickets with you as you’ll need to present the card in order to pick up your tickets.

Getting There

Le Grand Feu takes place in the Parc de Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris. Given the number of people attending the event, we took public transit from our apartment in the 6th arrondissement. If I remember correctly, it took just over an hour to arrive, including a 10-15 minute walk from the Boulogne – Pont de Saint-Cloud Métro station to the park entrance.

There were lots of people heading to the event at the same time as us, so it would have been pretty hard to get lost – we just followed the crowd. Keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park and depending which section your seats are in you’ll need to enter from one side or the other.

I recommend arriving at least 30-45 minutes early as there are a few bottlenecks in the admission process. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, but there were many others filtering into the park after the start of the show.

Amenities

As the event takes place in a park, there are fewer amenities than you might expect. There were several food trucks and a spattering of portable toilets, but not really enough to satisfy the crowd of 20,000+ visitors. We brought a backpack full of drinks and snacks, so I can’t really speak to the length of the food truck lines or the quality of the food. If you need to pee, do so well before the show starts as the lines were very long just prior to showtime. On the plus side, the portable toilets seemed pretty clean!

This is an outdoor event, so be prepared for the weather. I recommend bringing warm clothes and a few blankets as the temperature definitely dropped toward the end of the performance.

If you’ll be lucky enough to be near Paris on September 13, 2014 then why not treat yourself to a great fireworks show? Visit the official Le Grand Feu website for additional information, although you might have to brush up on your French to understand it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

‘This American Life’ leaves PRI   

Radio

Cara Buckley, reporting for The New York Times:

On July 1, “This American Life” became independent, leaving its distributor of 17 years, Public Radio International, or PRI.

[...]

But the big impact is financial. Gone are a distributor’s financial guarantees, which in the case of “This American Life,” reached seven figures. Instead, Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album “In Rainbows,” or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show.

It will be strange listening to this podcast without the familiar “PRI, Public Radio International” voice-over at the end.

(Via Marco.org)

UPDATE

Additional information on the show’s new radio distribution partner was posted by Ira Glass to the This American Life blog:

The company that’s going to deliver the audio files of our show to stations, PRX, has this website (prx.org, duh) where anyone can post a story or a full series and try to get radio stations to run it. What they’re about is the democratization of public radio. Making it easy for you or any newcomer to get their work into the hands of program directors. I admire that.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Apple ‘Pride’   

AppleVideo

Apple:

On June 29, thousands of Apple employees and their families marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade. They came from around the world — from cities as far as Munich, Paris, and Hong Kong — to celebrate Apple’s unwavering commitment to equality and diversity. Because we believe that inclusion inspires innovation.

Beautiful video. It would be great if Apple expanded this to all the cities where they have a retail presence.